Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Culture Matters

The often-wonderful Virginia Postrel has a new essay about cultural change and value, Culture Matters.
In The Constitution of Liberty, Friedrich Hayek made the important point that we should not confuse what the market values at a given point in time with what is meritorious. Market value is strictly a matter of relative scarcity—of supply and demand, of the technologies and production functions of the moment. Commanding a higher salary doesn’t demonstrate your intrinsic superiority. Your economic value is historically contingent and separate from your merit. Naturally people who think their merit should command higher pay don’t appreciate such cold analysis. And economically successful people absolutely hate the idea. I once interviewed a Harvard professor about his experience teaching Hayek. Of all Hayek’s ideas, he told me, the merit-value distinction was the one his students found least congenial. “Hard-working, successful, achievement-oriented Harvard students don’t like that idea,” he said. “They’re troubled with the idea that there’s a lot of luck.” So are many libertarians.
We are troubled by such things, in both directions. We don't like to have our achievements denigrated and attributed to luck, and we also do not like to allow the marketplace to be the primary source of human worth. We are rewarded for producing something useful, but what we produce is not who we are.

For Christians, we have value solely because God assigns us value. Yet even so, the Bible talks about people of worth and value, and things we might do which are important. None of this is new, and we are rather stuck with it.


Texan99 said...

What's salary got to do with human worth? My employers or customers can't make my human worth greater or less than it is. Nor does my net worth affect it. Money is a promise of material reciprocation, useful in a society in which commercial promises are honored, so we can move on to something more flexible than immediate barter. Commercial promises are for strangers. They have little place in an intimate relationship based on affection, duty, or spontaneous recognition of human worth. We use money to facilitate interactions outside the small circle of people among whom those principles are sufficient. It doesn't mean that those small circles are less important than our interactions with more distant strangers, only that we've come to enjoy the variety and material prosperity that comes with widening our circle to include relative strangers.

Sam L. said...

Money matters. WAAAAAY too much for some of us.

Texan99 said...

Of course it matters, if we want to eat and have shelter. It just doesn't determine our human worth. If we think it does, it's not the system that's at fault, it's us.

Christopher B said...

Texan99 - Amen! There's a reason people usually misquote 1 Timothy 6:10 (For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil).

Roy Lofquist said...

"The great line of demarcation in modern politics, Eric Voegelin used to point out, is not a division between [classical] liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order, and that material needs are their only needs, and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal."

Russell Kirk

james said...

Money isn't the only mismeasure, of course. Brainpower is another.

Both are things held in stewardship--we don't get to keep them.